EASTER for me is a wonderful time of year. It’s a sign that spring is here and with that comes a whole host of new ingredients arriving at my kitchen door.
It’s a colourful collection of lighter, brighter, greens and yellows, with flashes of purple, orange and pink. The sight of all the new colourful produce of the season always gets my pulse racing and I can’t wait to get into my kitchen to start trying new dishes and recipes, creating new menus for the restaurant and also for home-cooked family dinners.
For our family Easter lunch this year, we have dear friends visiting us from London, so there will be lots of people to feed in our house. I’ll be cooking rabbit with a whole collection of vibrant, delicious sides so everyone can help themselves. Rabbit might not seem the obvious choice for some, but if you give it a chance, you’ll find it can be truly tasty. It’s a very distinctive meat with a hint of a subtle gamey taste. Across Europe, rabbit is eaten a lot more regularly than it is here and we tend to be much more reluctant to cook it in the UK.
I always prefer to cook with wild rabbit, as it’s much more flavoursome than the farmed variety, which can often be a little fatty and bland. You’ll find farmed rabbit is not always reared in the right way either, so sourcing wild meat from a trusted butcher will give you peace of mind. You can ask for it whole, skinned and gutted, or they can joint it for you if you prefer.
Rabbit can be matched with most of spring’s vegetables, such as artichoke, kale, carrots, spring onions and wild garlic. Classic mashed potatoes or one of my favourites, potato boulangère, make a great side. If you want to try something a little different, then gnocchi makes a refreshing change, and if you get them just right, these light little dumplings can be perfect for entertaining.
Rabbit with spring onion, confit garlic and olives
For the confit garlic
one head of garlic
250ml olive oil (not extra virgin)
For the rabbit
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
4 saddles of rabbit
500g crépinette (caul fat)
salt and pepper
4 rabbit kidneys
2 bunches spring onion
2 tbsp black pitted olives
For the confit garlic
Very simply, using your hand, push down on the head of the garlic to separate the cloves. Once separated, pick out the nice fat ones. Place the olive oil into a small pan and warm so that it comes to blood temperature – ie no more than 40 degrees. Place the cloves with the skin still on into the oil and cook them slowly for 1½ hours on a low temperature – when you stick your finger into the oil it should feel warm but not too hot to touch. Cook for 1-2 hours until you can gently squeeze the cloves and see that they are very soft. Serve with the skin on. Confit garlic tastes great squeezed over roast chicken and many kinds of fish too.
For the rabbit
Wash the spinach and dry it on kitchen towels. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a pan, add the spinach and garlic and cook until the spinach is wilted. Add the finely chopped shallot and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Lay the rabbit saddles flat on the crépinette and season with salt and pepper. Add the spinach mixture along the inside of the fillet on the skin side, then roll everything up like a spring roll and tie with kitchen string to secure tightly.
Warm some olive oil in a pan and colour the rabbit until golden on all sides. Put into the oven and roast for 6-8 minutes until just cooked, adding the rabbit kidneys to the pan after the first 5 minutes. Take out of the oven and leave to rest in a warm place for 2-3 minutes.
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan then add some rapeseed oil. Add the spring onion and sauté for 30 seconds to a minute. Add a touch of salt, and place the pan in the oven, still at 180C/Gas Mark 4, for 2-3 minutes.
Layer a few sprigs of spring onions on each plate, then add the confit garlic and chopped olives. Place the rabbit on top of the spring onions and serve.
Rabbit leg pastilla
In the picture below I’ve served the rabbit with a rabbit leg pastilla too, which involves braising the rabbit leg, chilling it and then placing it in a “pate a bric” – a cross between filo dough and a crêpe – and then deep frying it. It’s a bit more cheffy but this dish is equally good without it.
Roasted and raw artichoke
2 large artichokes – chopped and peeled
salt and pepper to taste
Keep one of the chopped artichokes aside and mix in a bowl with a little rapeseed oil. To cook the remaining artichoke, boil for 6-8 minutes, then drain. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed, oven-proof pan, then fry the artichokes for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, top with a sprig of parsley.
Roasted carrots and kale
2 large orange carrots
2 large purple carrots
handful of watercress
200g shredded kale
knob of butter
juice of 1 lemon
Thickly slice the carrots into even slices. Boil them for 4 minutes or until just tender, then drain well. Mix rapeseed oil and lemon juice in a large bowl or serving dish, then toss with the carrots. Season to taste. Garnish with watercress.
Blanch the kale in salted water, heat the butter in a pan until foaming and stir in the kale until coated and warmed through. Season to taste.
500g floury potatoes
500g rock salt
100g plain flour
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6. Place the potatoes on a bed of salt and bake for 1½ hours. While the potatoes are still hot – this is important – scoop out all the flesh and pass it through a drum sieve. Sift the flour and set aside.
Whisk the egg and the egg yolk together. Fold in a small amount of hot potato, in effect tempering the egg. Then fold the egg and potato mix into the rest of the potato. Fold in the sifted flour, making sure not to let lumps form. Season to taste.
Knead the mixture into a ball and then shape into rolls about 1.5cm in diameter. Cut these into sections about 2.5cm long.
To shape the gnocchi, hold a fork in one hand and place a piece of dough against the tines of the fork. Using your thumb, press in and down the length of the fork. The gnocchi should curl slightly and take on the impression of the fork.
Bring a large pan of seasoned water to the boil. When the water is smoking (not bubbling), add the gnocchi and leave until they float up to the top. Remove immediately and allow to cool. Toss in vegetable oil to stop the gnocchi sticking together.
Serve vegetables in separate bowls. Garnish gnocchi with garlic confit from rabbit recipe.